The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

January 21, 2008

Radio Ad Nauseam

Filed under: Advertising, Entertainment — Tags: , , , , — Brian Lutz @ 3:22 am

 Over at today, James Lileks asked a question about what type of advertisements really get on your nerves.  This is something that I’ve been meaning to write a post about for a while now, so I figured this might be a good time to go ahead and do so.  I don’t actually watch a lot of TV these days (and what little TV I do watch I generally use a DVR for in order to be able to skip the commercials,) so most of the advertising I encounter comes from listening to the radio in the car while driving.  I usually alternate between the two local classic rock stations (102.5 KZOK FM and 95.7 KJR FM,) mostly trying to avoid the ads on one or the other.  The “hard break” at the top of the hour means that both stations will frequently be playing ads at the same time.  Unfortunately, this happens more often than I’d like, which doesn’t do me much good, but it does mean that I could probably quote Shane Co. ads from memory (Yeah, I have a friend in the diamond business.  Who knew?)

 On the other hand, even when the stations aren’t playing ads it doesn’t take much to get me to change the station, or if neither station is playing anything worth listening to at the moment I’ll just mute the volume.  One of the tiny little features I enjoy in my car is the fact that the stereo makes a satisfying little beep whenever the volume is turned down to zero, which really emphasizes the whole thing (although shouting “DELETED!“while you do it is probably not a good idea, especially with other passengers in the car.)  Needless to say, it doesn’t take much for an ad to get muted.  In a lot of cases, there isn’t anything particularly annoying about the ad itself, but the ad gets so overplayed that it completely loses whatever initial impact it might have had, and just annoys you.  On the other hand, there are some ads that are just annoying right away. A few examples of these are noted below, after the jump.

  • Video Only:  As the name implies, this is a small chain of electronics stores on the West Coast that sells only video related gear, including TVs, DVD players, cameras and home theater systems (which is pushing it a bit on the “Video Only” name, unless they’re selling those primarily to synaesthetics.)  Oddly enough, for a chain that specializes in video equipment, their advertising seems to be radio only, as I can never recall seeing them run an ad on TV.  Each of their ads features a couple of people discussing an impending TV purchase, going over the “top rated” models (but always using vague terms such as “the 47-inch Sony model” or the “32-inch JVC”) and always determining that Video Only has a cheaper price than whatever generic ad they happen to be looking at.  Shockingly, they always conclude that You’ll Be Sorry® if you don’t shop at Video Only.  Aside from their repetitious nature, there’s nothing particularly unusual about these ads, except for one thing:  For more than a decade now, every single one of their ads has featured the same two people, having the same conversation, with the same result.  Only the TVs seem to change, depending on what happens to be “in” right now.  I picture these people living in a house where every single wall in every single room is completely covered in TVs, and three bedrooms are filled with the now obsolete CRT TVs they don’t have room anywhere else for.  The finance company has taken to sending their bills in a crate, and the mailman is suing them for the hernia inflicted by hauling those to the doorstep.  The people at the Video Only store know that this whole thing will only lead these people to financial ruin, but they’re afraid to do anything about it, since these two people have somehow managed to singlehandedly keep the entire chain afloat for the past eight years.  They’ll be sorry indeed…
  • Applebee’s:  It’s bad enough that Applebee’s manages to take the same mediocre pre-packaged food everyone else uses and somehow turns it into something even more bland and unappealing than usual, but they also have a longstanding track record of consistently creating some of the most annoying ads on the radio.  Currently they’re using the “Applebee’s Apple,” basically a piece of fruit lecturing you about your eating habits in much the same way your mother would (their website has a sample of this, but be warned that the sound starts the minute you hit the page.)  Basically, it comes across as someone trying to shoehorn a TV ad onto the radio, with poor results.  As annoying as this is, it’s a major improvement over some of their previous advertising.  There was a period of several years when all of their ads consisted of taking some “classic” rock or Motown song and butchering it into a bad cover version, complete with insipid lyrics tailored for whatever promotoion they happened to be running at the time.  Upon further investigation, it turns out that the company fired their previous ad agency last March, which   should hopefully prevent us from being subjected to too much more of this schlock.  Now if we could get them to fire their food supplier too…
  • HD Radio:  Given the fact that the stations which I listen to are broadcasting on HD radi0 now (along with a majority of the FM stations in the Seattle market) advertising to get people to make the switch from their standard radio (or, as some people might say, to try to prevent them from getting their lunch eaten by satellite radio.)  Although most of the ads have been relatively straightforward thus far, they have become increasingly tone-deaf and annoying as of late.  One recent series of ads purports to be messages left on your answering machine by your current radio, trying to “convince” you not to replace it for HD Radio and generally sounding rather pathetic in the process.  Even putting aside the absurdity of your radio being able to make a phone call, it almost seems as though these ads are trying to be deliberately annoying.  Exactly how this is supposed to convince people to buy a product is beyond me.  Then again, I’m not working in advertising, so who knows what they’re trying to do?
  • Casinos:  The Indian casinos around here advertise heavily on the radio, and it’s rare for a commercial break to go by without an for one casino or another.  Since I do not patronize any of these establishments (that’s not to say that I never gamble, but that’s a topic for another post to stick on my list of things I’ll probably never get around to) I don’t generally pay much attention to these.  As a rule, they tend to follow a consistent formula, and mostly serve to provide info on current promotions and upcoming events.  There is one casino in particular that follows the same “make a bad cover of an old rock song” formula that made the old Applebee’s ads cited above so annoying, and follows that with a rather contrived “conversation” between a married couple talking about how great the casino is, and how they should take their parents there for the bazillionth time.  I do realize that getting drunk and losing money is some people’s idea of fun, but generally if you want to spend every waking moment in a casino, it’s time to give the gambling addiction hotline a call.
  • Public Service Ads:  Typically, PSAs will be used to fill in leftover advertising space, and generally come from one department or another of the Washington State government.  As a rule, these tend to get tuned out automatically, since usually they are trying to tell me something that I already know in an excessively preachy manner.  One particularly annoying ad that has been running around here lately from the Washington State Department of Health has someone getting into an argument with a turkey (which responds with increasingly agitated gobbling) over finding a pack of cigarettes in the car.  It’s bad enough listening to people argue with each other, what makes anyone think that I would want to listen to someone arguing with a bird, especially about smoking?  Last time I checked, about the only time turkeys and smoking ever mix involves a one-way trip to the deli counter.

To show that I don’t disagree with everything, I will conclude with one example of a recent radio ad that I liked and found rather effective.  In an ad for Sports Authority (a chain of sporting goods stores,) The announcer reads off a list of people found at a sporting event who would be detrimental to the experience (cheaters, dopers, fair-weather fans, sore losers, soccer moms who forget to bring the orange slices, etc.) and concludes with “This is for you… (blows a whistle) You’re outa’ here.”  This places the emphasis on their current “Dedicated to the dedicated” ad campaign, and is to the point and unambiguous.  It does have the minor side effect of making me wonder if I’d get kicked out of the store and assessed a ten-yard penalty on general principle if I tried to shop there, but that’s beside the point.   This ad is the type of thing that would be difficult to do on television, but works perfectly for an audio only medium.   Unfortunately, it seems that there are a lot of people out there who haven’t figured out radio advertising yet, and have filled the airwaves with advertising that just annoys people as a result.


  1. To me the most annoying of the annoying radio commercials have to be for the various identical Jewelry chains.

    Listening to a single EE Robbins add will almost put in into diabetic shock. Schmaltzy couples crediting their entire happy relationships to the helpful staff at EE Robbins.

    Not to mention Jared (“I ALMOST COOKED IT!”) Jewelers.

    If it were not for Jewelry advertising, I’m pretty sure most of the radio stations I listen to would cease to exist.

    Comment by Jeff — January 21, 2008 @ 12:56 pm

  2. It is Weisfield that does those annoying “I ALMOST COOKED IT” ads. Seriously I think the only reason “Brian” gets “Lisa” the jewelery is because it is the only way to SHUT HER UP. Notice it is a new LISA every ad?

    Comment by Eva — February 5, 2008 @ 6:25 pm

  3. What’s even worse is that so many of my favourite internet radio stations have switched to being non-commercial-free….with a 200% LOUDER THAN NORMAL ad every half-hour “ARE YOU DOING THE ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION TWO-STEP?????? GET VIAGRA TODAAAAAAAAAAY” which is super-annoying.

    And yeah, what is it with jewelry companies and radio ads? It’s not like you can see the merchandise!!!

    Comment by reccaphoenix — March 2, 2008 @ 12:34 am

  4. […] back in the late Nineties or so, I still listen to it quite a bit, mostly to relentlessly mock the insipid advertising thereon.  My personal music collection really isn’t all that big (having a big test server […]

    Pingback by What I’ve Been Working On Lately « The Sledgehammer - Version 2.0 — September 11, 2008 @ 1:38 am

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